Archive for the ‘Travel reports’ category

Profile: Ron Gluckman, a travel writer in Asia

May 4, 2007

Ron Gluckman is an American journalist who has been based in Asia for 16 years, working out of Hong Kong, Beijing and Bangkok. He’s travelled around Asia extensively and written for publications including Time, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Ron’s break in travel writing came by accident when he was researching background for a book for his journalism fellowship at Oxford University back in 1990. He wound up in Hong Kong with no money, just the bag on his back, and he started working for Asian magazines. He never looked back.

Ron said: “When I was stuck in Hong Kong I sent faxes to half a dozen editors on a Friday, got a call on a Saturday and was covering stories by the Monday. I just got lucky and I’ve never looked back since.”

Ron feels that writing and travelling go hand in hand with each other, and he finds it hard to define himself as either without crossing over into the other field.

He said: “I’ve been a writer or journalist for a long time, and think one is just an extension of the other. My first real travel writing was done for newspapers. Reporters were always looking for some way to extend a road trip or get out of the office on an exotic excursion.

“I started traveling on my own as a teenager and was hooked. I pretty much made up my mind that writing was what I wanted to do about the same time. It was only a matter of time before the two came together and I was working as a travel writer. I don’t really consider myself a travel writer so much as a general reporter.”

“My usual routine is to arrange a story somewhere, like Mongolia or Vietnam, then I see what else is interesting. My approach to travel writing probably stems from this reporter background.

“I really hate all these identical stories about beaches or blah blah blah. When I read a story, I don’t want to read a travel story, I want to read a story, meaning I want to learn something interesting that I didn’t already know. The best travel writing unquestionably involves fantastic writing and interesting travel.”

The best thing about being a travel writer for Ron is the ability to travel here, there and everywhere. He hates the concept of a holiday, he’d much rather be working.

He said: “I absolutely hate holidays, meaning going somewhere to not work, where I have to pay for everything myself, get treated poorly and don’t learn anything. I much prefer going to exotic places with a purpose, where everyone wants to take me
to their favorite spot, the most secluded waterfall, or to visit some distant tribe, or to eat some incredibly tasty local dish, and then return to some luxurious resort and have a soak in a six-star spa under the stars – and get paid for it. Talk about a dream job!”

The current state of the media business is the most frustrating part of Ron’s job, he feels that editors just aren’t willing to commission exciting pieces anymore, they’d rather play it safe.

“For me, it’s a continual adjustment to new editors”, says Ron, “who are always dealing with their own preoccupations: the new design, new direction, new demographics.

“I find it such a world away from what I do, which is hanging out with monks in Mongolia or Bhutan, or trying to get on board new train routes to Tibet. But all the difficulties in the field are minor compared to the lack of editorial ambition; before magazines really took chances. Now they all want to play it safe, covering the same ground between Bali and Phuket. It’s hard to get them to push things.”

Ron finds it hard to put his finger on his top five destinations, but it’s Asia that dominates his list.

He said: “My motto is the weirder the better, so I look remote places where people wear funny things on their heads. It’s getting harder and harder to find really remote places these days, and I’m not a danger junkie, but I do like different.

“Hence, you cannot beat North Korea. It’s as out-there as you can get in an intellectual sense, and while there are definite
drawbacks in the access and being unable to travel freely, everything you see and do works well in terms of story telling.”

“Next, I’d say Bhutan, which is one of the nicest places I’ve ever been, still mostly unspoiled and inspiring. You feel privileged just to be there.

“Mongolia is still special, really one of the Last Great Places, as it’s been called. I like the endless space and complete contrast to the ways of the rest of the world.

“Here’s a funny observation: Everyone I’ve talked to who has been to Mongolia has either loved it or hated it – but always for the same reason. The last time I went, I got as sick as I’ve ever been in my life, totally destroyed for three weeks. But as soon as I got better, I was straight back on the train to Mongolia again.”

The next two of Ron’s picks are good places for first-timers in Asia to visit.

He said: “The two most accessible places are: Goa in India, which surprises everyone with its laid-back charm and old-world architecture.

“And, for ease of travel, and value for money, it would be hard to beat Thailand, my present home. We have great weather, great beaches, fantastic food, and wonderful people. Even with all the tourists, it’s still a wonderful place to visit.”

Jenna Richards: Out in Korea

April 30, 2007

‘The land of morning calm’ sounded like exactly what I needed after a very stressful year doing a masters degree, working for the student newspaper and holding down a part time job. It was for this reason, and the money I could make working as an English teacher, I decided to go to South Korea for some me time.

With images of tranquil parks full of people practicing Thai chi at sun rise, I arrived fully prepared to embrace the culture. Only to find my image was naively misguided and ‘The land of morning calm’ could be more aptly named ‘The land of daily stress’.

Motorists rush around with blatant disregard for red lights, dodging naive foreigners who haven’t waited dutifully for the green man before making the perilous journey across the road. Driving in Korea seems to be a constant race for the finish line with little or no regard for speed limits. Upon arriving it was explained to me that speed limits and red lights are more ‘friendly advice’ that absolute law!

People on the subway barge and push like their life depends on being the fist on, or off, the train. Having frequently travelled on the London underground standing in a sweaty armpit during rush hour I thought the daily commute couldn’t get more uncomfortable. Until squashed, sardine like, on the Seoul subway I had a group of teenagers, excited at seeing a fair haired foreigner, get out their mobile phones and shamelessly take my photograph whilst I was too squashed to even turn away!

But now I realize that rushing around is just the Korean way. As with any big city, in Seoul, people have things to do and places to be and they want to get there quickly. The Korean’s have one of the longest working weeks in the world, and I now find that I am also one of those rushing to get home and enjoy those precious few hours off from the world before I have to get up tomorrow and do it all again.

The teenagers on the subway weren’t taking my photo out of spite, but curiosity and wonder at seeing someone so different to themselves. Unlike the UK, Korea isn’t racially diverse and many people living here don’t get the same opportunities to travel that westerners do. It can be a novelty for teenagers to spot someone with fair hair standing next to them on the subway, for many the only other place they’ve seen a westerner is in their classroom at school.

In coming to Korea I didn’t find the de-stressed way of life I was expecting, but what I did find is a country where despite being one of the most technologically advanced in the world people still marvel at a foreigner on a train. Despite working long hours a stranger will find the time to stop and help as you struggle to the bus stop with your shopping

It is also a country that, once you look past the hustle bustle and skyscrapers, is steeped in culture and traditions. And whilst I haven’t found any parks full of people practicing Thai chi at sunrise I have found a culture and country that I can immerse myself in and, like a Korean spotting a westerner on a train, I am constantly in awe of how different it is from everything back in England.

Switzerland: Geneva

April 25, 2007

Sinead Renouf visits Switzerland’s historical city of Geneva and the surrounding Cantons.

As I arrived on the Swiss boarder at two in the morning, I could think of nothing better then to rest one’s head on one’s pillow.  However at the same time I had so many exciting areas that I wanted to visit in this surprisingly varied countryside. With the Jura mountains behind me and the Alps facing me I felt that there was a country that was waiting to be discovered.

Geneva, Switzerland’s business capital has much to offer.  From its famous Geyser that spurts out over 500 litres a second you can take an afternoon stroll out to the geyser passing by the local residents who have many local delicacies on offer.

If walking the lake edge of Geneva is not quite your style then perhaps walking the copious amounts of upper class shops is. The lake side is cluttered with the names, that a student can only dream of wearing, the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Cartier are but a few.

The weather that I was fortunate to get on my short stay in the land of cheese, chocolate and knives was amazing. It allowed me to get the chance to see Mont Blanc the highest mountain in the Alps most days. This I found out later on, by a local, is not a common thing as the weather is often clear but hazy around the mountains.

If you feel like taking a drive around the largest lake in Western Europe then there are many beautiful places to stop on the way. However I would suggest the wonderful town of Evian which is on the French side of the Lac Leman. Here you have a good view of the snow covered Alps.

This quaint town has a beautiful promenade along the lake side and is well worth a visit and perhaps if you have some spare time you can go and use the Evian thermal spa where all the therapies use pure Evian water and nothing else.

Another town that is well worth visiting purely to rub ones shoulders with the celebs is Gastaad. This is where the likes of Sean Connery, Grace Kelly and Paris Hilton amongst others like to come to ski during the spring. This town is full of exquisite cars from Porsche’s and Ferrari’s to Aston Martin’s and Maserati’s. Here you can be surrounded by high peaks covered in snow and yet bask outside a café in the baking heat with a glass of wine and not a care in the world.

Overall there is just not enough time to do everything that this little neutral country can offer. With its altering countryside and wealth this country has such a different style of living to the norm and this is why it is such a wonderful place to visit.

Travelling across South America

April 19, 2007

Chris Beaumont, 33, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Carpenter and dive master

South America

1. How long are you travelling for?
6-8 months
2. Where in South America are you travelling?
brazil , uruguay , argentina , chile , bolivia , peru , ecuador
3. Is it an easy place to travel around?
The transport network is very good , and like asia , oz, nz s africa the
hostel network is huge , if you can speak a littly spanish much easier ,
4. What places have you been to?
brazil -rio ,- iguazu falls ,- pantanal -buenos aires – ushuai (southern
most city in the world , and now working my way up the west coast
5. What’s been the best bit so far?
All of it
6. What’s been the worst bit so far?
none
7. What advice would you give people wanting to travel to South America?
Be street wise and be on guard , heard of a lot of muggings and robberies , but mainly young people getting drunk and walking home alone , you wouldn’t do it in Leeds or London so why expect to get away with it here?

Living in Japan: Shari

March 21, 2007

1. Why did you move to Japan? (and where did you move from?)

I moved from California in the United States. The reasons I moved are
a bit complex. Primarily, my husband and I had a brief and very
positive history in Japan and wanted to return to recapture that
situation. We also felt that we might find a better economic
situation temporarily in Japan. Our original plan was to be here for
5 years and now it’s been 18 years.

The “brief and positive” history was my husband and I, who were pen
pals, met for the first time in Tokyo while I was on vacation. I
stayed for a month. It was a wonderful experience.

> 2. How does it differ to living in a Wester country?

For a caucasian person, it can be a bit like being a black person in
a largely white community. You get stared at. People whisper about
you or talk to each other about you (figuring you can’t understand
them even when you actually can). People can also be extremely
understanding and considerate of you because they recognize you don’t
fully fit into (or understand) the culture. In general, the main
difference is that you are always aware that you are different and
will always be different.

Other than that, there’s the obvious which is you can’t read a lot of
what is around since there are thousands of characters. Even if you
study a fair bit, you may never be able to read fluently because the
characters read differently depending on the characters they are
paired with. You often find that Japanese people make mistakes in
reading their own characters because it’s so complex. Even those who
learn to read Japanese often never learn to write. In most western
countries, a roman alphabet is used so you can read everything even
if you can’t understand it. This is a serious impediment to learning
the language compared to learning a western language.

> 3. What are the cultural differences that you’ve observed?

This is the question that would require a book. Here are just a few:

1. Communication works differently. It’s not just a language
difference. The Japanese communicate in a fashion designed to not
communicate clearly. They say “yes” when they mean  “no”. They say
nothing when they really want you to know something. They tell you
it’s okay not to do something (or do something) when they really
disapprove. The Japanese people understand the way communication
works (or doesn’t work) and are able to read into the indirect
communication and infer what is actually meant. Foreigners find this
hard to do because they don’t understand the cultural framework.

2. Your rights are limited and can be revoked at any time. You cannot
assert your right to anything strongly. The police may stop and
question you at any time or haul you into the station for questioning
at any time. I have been stopped and accused of stealing my bike
merely because I was riding it down the sidewalk.

3. There is a lot more gift giving and apologizing. Neither is
sincere or heartfelt. There is a lot more obligatory behavior based
on social rules and customs. Your acquaintances and friends who are
Japanese will not expect you to follow these rules but they will
observe them when they interact with  you.

4. Appearances mean more than substance. Food looks good but doesn’t
taste good. A beautifully wrapped gift is more important for its
wrapping than its contents. How you dress is more important than who
you are (except in family and interpersonal situations). You hang
around the office and don’t go home until everyone else does. It
doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you give the appearance
of working as hard as everyone else.

5. People don’t complain often or loudly. You’re expected to control
your emotions and those around you usually control theirs. In the
U.S., you will often see people behave in a hostile fashion toward
strangers who annoy them. You rarely see that in Japan. People will
be rude, of course, but they rarely respond to each other’s rudeness.

6. Service is often slow and meticulous. The Japanese are sticklers
for dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s” and they don’t
mind making people wait in line while they methodically go through
every stage.

7. The Japanese place a greater value on the needs of the group (and
maintaining harmony) than on individual needs. For instance, the
Japanese often work while sick. Meetings take forever because they
won’t express their opinions assertively or clearly. As a foreigner,
you can run afoul of your coworkers if you’re too assertive or
forthright.

8. The Japanese don’t like too many personal questions and are
uncomfortable offering up certain types of information we’d freely
discuss in the west.

There are also a lot of tiny things but they’re all covered in guide
books and easy to learn – taking your shoes off when you enter a
house, eating everything you are served (because any food left on the
plate indicates that you didn’t like the dish), never pouring your
own drink and pouring drinks for others, etc.

> 4. What do you do out there?

I teach English and do freelance work for a company that sells
correspondence courses.

> 5. What advice would you give to people who are thinking of
> traveling/moving to Japan?

Traveling and moving are two very different issues when it comes to
Japan. If you’re going to travel around Japan, you can pretty much
get by with just English because most of the places you’re going to
go or stay will have English speaking and signs.

If you’re moving here, any advice depends on how long you’re going to
stay. If you’re just here for the short term, see and do as much as
you can in your free time and don’t sweat the cultural differences
much since you’ll be forgiven any transgressions.

If you’re moving and plan to stay for a long time, try to abandon
ethnocentric judgments and accept that the Japanese are different but
different doesn’t mean “worse”. Expect to be frustrated at times and
to have your patience tested. Try to get yourself in the mindset that
saying what you think will probably harm you more than help you in
the long run and set yourself to the task of learning to read and
communicate between the lines. Expect to love it at first. Expect to
hate it later. Expect to like it even later.

> 6. Where in Japan do you live?

I live in Tokyo.

Travel report: Amy Jenkins in central america

March 6, 2007

Amy Jenkins

 

1. How old are you? – 21
2. Where are you from? – Glasgow, Scotland.
3. Are you a student? If so, what do you study and where do you study? – Yup, American Studies at Edinburgh University.
4. Where did you travel to and how long for? – I’ve been to lots of places, but most recently went backpacking through Guatemala and Honduras for a total of 5 weeks.
5. Who did you go with? – I went by myself, but attended a Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala for the first couple of weeks were I met people I did some travelling with, and also met loads of people along the way.
6. If you went with a volunteer organisation, who was it? – n/a
7. What did you do on your placement? – n/a
8. What was the best bit about traveling?- Waking up in the morning and not knowing where you’ll be by the end of the day, and it didn’t matter. It’s really exciting and liberating. Travelling ”solo” gives you such an amazing sense of being independent and doing whatever you please. I also met loads of really cool and interesting people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet in normal daily life. The hot weather was great aswell!
9. What was the worst bit? – I love love love travelling so I wouldn’t say there’s really anything bad enough to put me off, but the cold showers and language barriers were occasionally frustrating.
10. Do you plan to travel in the future? If so, where to and why? – I plan to travel as much and as far as possible for the rest of my life! This summer I’m going to Spain for a couple of weeks, Cuba for a couple of weeks, then I’m moving to Germany for 3 or 4 months for an internship in Berlin and will hopefully see a lot of Europe during that time. I desperately want to go back to Central and South America, I love the energy and vibrancy of Latin America, the streets are literally pulsing. I also want to do a massive trip through Asia, maybe for about a year or so. I’m also looking a number of volunteer projects to do with Coral Reef conservation, something I became really interested in when I did my Advanced Level Scuba Diving course in Honduras. I’ve also been looking at projects helping Orangutans in Borneo. I think the next time I go on somewhere for a long period of time, I want to be involved in some kind of conservation or volunteer organization.
11. Do you have pictures or videos from your trip? (If yes, then can you send them to me, or do you have them hosted anywhere online?) They’re all on my facebook albums!